The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings

Index of Topics (Items are posted with the most recent at the top. * indicates additional text sinceoriginal entry)
Closer . . .  Vera Drake . . . Being Julia . . . Kinsey . . Something's Gotta Give  . .  Monsieur Ibrahim and the Flowers of the Koran  . .  Chicago . .  The HoursAbout Schmidt . . Frida> . . Playwrights Penning Film Scripts . . >Adaptation . . Stage actor studded end -of-2002 films . . .Far From Heaven & Roger Dodger . . . American Beauty -- an English stage director's spectaclar debut (see Golden Globes). . . Anna Friel At 22 a Movie and Soap Opera Star-- And Now Stage Star . . .Annie Gets Our Her Gun Again. . . Broadway Musicals With Screen Potential* . . .Cider House Rules . . . The Cradle Will Rock . . . **Conor McPherson -- His Stories Are As Irish As the Blarney Stone". . .*HurlyBurly . . . Liberty Heights -- Bebe Neuwirth as a Jewish Mom . . . Mansfield Park . . . The Salesman To Whom Attention IS Still Being Paid. . . **Shakespeare In Love. . . A Stage Linked Film (American Beauty)9/26/99 postscript. . .Movie Stars In Summer Stock  *playwright of new summer stock play directs movie with strong theatrical roots, and * a new movie festival for Summer travellers .*Stagestruck Movie Stars. . . Stage Star Studded Movies. . .Stage-to-Screen News. Fifties Golden Oldies Redux . . .Rushmore . . .Theater Folks Shine in Golden Globes . . .Topsy-Turvy -- About the Men Who Laid the Groundwork For the Modern Musical Theater. . Anna Friel At 22 a Movie and Soap Opera Star-- And Now Stage Star. . . Asian-Americans Make Musical News . . . Battleship Potemkin. . . . *Beautiful Thing   . . .Captain's Courageous -- The Musical *. . .Dancing at Lughnasa . . .Fifties Golden Oldies Redux . . .Gods and Monsters . . .High Life . . .**A Lion In Winter Comes Full Circle . . . . . Majority of One . . . Must Fall* . . . Olga's House of Shame and Mel Brooks' Frankenstein meet Gertrude Stein . . ..Parade. . .

Something's Gotta Give. Unless you count the HBO adaptation of Tony Kushner's Angels In America of which I've only had a chance to watch part one, Something's Gotta Give, is the first "catch" of my annual Christmas to New Year's movie catchup (a rather slim list compared to last year. Interestingly, I saw it the day after my last play of the year, Neil Simon's Rose's Dilemma. Both Nancy Meyer the writer/director of the light-as-meringue May-December/December-May romantic movie and Neil Simon, author of the play currently at Manhattan Theatre Club are haunted by ghosts: Meyer by the ghost of screwball comedies that you're not supposed to take too seriously; Simon by the ghost of his better plays of the past and a character who actually is a ghost who represents the love of the title character's life. And that's about where the similarities between the savvy Ms. Meyer and the sadly not at his best Mr. Simon end. Rose's Dilemma fails to convey its more serious concerns or the playwright's usual humorous touch, thus touching neither our hearts or our funny bone. Meyer's script, on the other hand makes the credibility gaps easily overlooked in view of its warmth and humor, not to mention a dynamite cast.

Ms. Meyer's update of this genre gains altitude via her terrific ear and eye for dialogue and visual touches. Her film is full of incredible touches but incredibly enjoyable: A heart attack turns Harry Sanborn (Jack Nicholson ingeniously and delightfully echoing his off-stage self) commitment-phobic old bachelor (like George Kaufman's The Man Who Came to Dinner into an extended house guest at his latest girl friend Marin's (Amanda Peet) fifty-ish mom Erika (Diane Keaton -- not a cellulite bump or other sign of gravity to make every woman of a certain age dream of looking this good ) house in the Hamptons. (The Simon play also has an Hamptons setting). Romance between the old roue and woman who for once isn't inappropriately young enough to be his daughter is inevitable. To give the ladies in the audience something to cheer about Erika has another suitor: Harry's 36-year-old doctor (Keanu Reeves) who couldn't care less that Erika could be his mom. Both romances are encouraged by Erika's professor sister Zoe (a hilarious Frances McDormand) who teaches -- what else-- woman's studies" The pairing of Keaton and Nicholson is sheer heaven. The chemistry between them sends sparks all over the place. While you might want an ending that follows through on the idea of giving old Harry his comeuppance but logic isn't what this film is about. You could niggle about little things like the sunset that would make more sense in California (where this was probably filmed) than Easthampton. Theater people familiar with the long development process for even a well-known playwright's new work, might laugh wryly at the speed with which Erika's play goes from page to Broadway stage. They might also find Erika's "dancing Henrys" more than a little reminiscent of the old ladies dancing with their walkers in The Producers. A perfect holiday treat. (posted 2/24/03).
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Monsieur Ibrahim and the Flowers of the Koran (Monsieur Ibrahim et les Fleurs du Coran) film review by Carolyn Balducci. I reviewed the one-man play Monsieur Ibrahiim and the Flowers of the Koran by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt for CurtainUp last winter when it played for about six weeks at the McGinn/Cazale Theatre( The Review). I thought Ed Vassallo's performance was superb and I felt that his touching, wry and bittersweet solo-performance was mesmerizing. In that review I observed that "the language of the text is rich in metaphor, and so well articulated that vivid images converge into a cinematic odyssey." Little did I know that indeed, a film co-written by the playwright with the award winning French director, Francois Dupeyron.

The film, which just has its East Coast premier at the Hamptons International Film Festival features handsome young Pierre Boulanger as 'Momo' and Omar Sharif in the role of Monsieur Ibrahim, a part he was born to play. Shot in muted color, the film is an homage to the French New Wave as well as to American fifties and sixties rock 'n roll. (What a great soundtrack!) Apart from the excellent acting and compelling storyline, I would recommend the film highly for its compassion and its theme of religious tolerance. ).

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Chicago. Does Chicago the Movie Musical have "Razzle-Dazzle?" You bet. So much so that it may just reactivate the genre long considered history.

What's best about it is that it captures all the Broadway hit's razzmatazz but is completely different. Rob Marshall, who's very much a man of the theater, has translated the sassy Kander Ebb score and managed to take full advantage of what the camera can do to tell Roxie Hart's story in real and dream time. Those dream sequences (think Pennies from Heaven) seamlessly integrate story and musical elements into a dazzling entertainment that should be a boon to DVD sales since people are likely to want to view it repeatedly, like music CDs.

Good as some of the Roxie Harts and Velma Kellys and Billy Flynns who've appeared in the Broadway show during its eight year run have been, the film's stars are ideally cast. Reneé Zellweger is a cross between Lana Turner and Marilyn Monroe as wannabe showgirl-murderess Roxie Hart. Catherine Zeta-Jones with her sleek Buster Brown wig and skyscraper long legs personifies the term "vamp."As for Richard Gere -- he's never been better than he is as the crafty lawyer who cynically boasts that "if Jesus Christ had lived in Chicago and if he'd had $5,000, and had come to me--things would have turned out differently." Who knew he could sing and tap dance and look so great in sequins! What about the nebbish Amos Hart whose "Mr. Cellophane" Joel Grey was long said to "own?" Wait until you see John Reilly's forlorn clown like take on this showstopper. He's not Joel but who needs Joel when we have John.

Another inspired casting choice is Queen Latifah as Mama Morton who will remind anyone old enough to remember her of Pearl Bailey. Her overly ambitious prison warden is a classy act even though she doesn't get to sing one of the original show's favorite songs, "Class" Also great fun is stage veteran Christine Baranski as Mary Sunshine, the chief sob sister of Chicago's Front Page Days. Colleen Atwood's costumes are a knockout.

Will Chicago the Movie Musical cut into sales of Chicago the Broadway Musical? I doubt it. In fact, if Reneé Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones have the pipes and energy to work without all those special effects and camera tricks obvious from the lengthy production credits, I wouldn't be surprised to have them make guest appearances at the Shubert. (posted 1/14/03).

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The Hours. This is that rare film adaptation of a novel that comes close to and, in fact, probably is even better than its source. The script, the direction, the performances -- and, not to be overlooked, the brilliant musical score by Phillip Glass -- all add up to a luminous, not to be missed film. This is the kind of film that proves that doing movies is not just a matter of income but an opportunity to make art for aa wide audience. The credits feature more names of stage luminaries than you're likely to currently see on any screen: from its directot, Stephen Daldry, and screenplay writer David Hare to a large segment of the cast. Nicole Kidman scales new heights of achievement as Virginia Woolf. Those voting for Best Actress awards will have a hard time choosing between her and her co-stars Meryl Streep and Juliane Moore. Theater goers will also recognize Stephen Dillane, Ed Harris, John C. Reilly, Jeff Daniels, Eileen Atkins, Allison Janney, Toni Collette and Miranda Richardson. I may have missed a couple. It's a large cast, and one that's uniformly satisfying.

To truly appreciate the integrity with which Hare, Daldry and the performers have treated Michael Cunningham's tour de force novel which was in turn an inspired by Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway, you should read The Hours which is now available as aa paperback. You might also want to read the never out of print Mrs. Dalloway, and get a copy of the Glass sound track:
The Hours
Mrs. Dalloway
Sound track from The Hours
(posted 1/01/03).

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About Schmidt. This is the bookend for Jack Nicholson's very different road tripping film Five Easy Pieces and will no doubt earn him an Oscar nomination. Nicholson's performance can be described as self-effacing. To inhabit the character of this Midwesternized film adaptation of Louis Begley's much more nuanced novel, the actor has totally immersed himself in a man who is the direct opposite of his zestful, bon vivant real life persona. Still, the Nicholson flair for humor that needs no words to come through is there even though the actor's every move is Schmidt's. He doesn't walk, he shuffles in keeping with the ungainly, unresourceful man he portrays.

Nicholson's memorable performance as the insurance actuary whose retirement unmasks a life that seemed moderately successful to be a monumental failure without second chances and Kathy Bates uninhibited support as the comic mother-in-law-to-be of Schmidt's daughter (Hope Davis -- familiar to theater as well as moviegoers), do not save this film from stretches of excessive visual flatness and slow-motion pacing. Other attempts at humor -- the voiceovers in which Schmidt writes to the six-year-old Tanzanian orphan he's "adopted" are initially funny but quickly turn into directorial device; and an interlude with a couple who invite him to dinner at their motor home is forced.

The best scenes are what might be called the party sequences -- Schmidt's retirement dinner, his wife's funeral, his daughter's wedding. Each effectively demonstrates the superficiality and staleness of people like Schmidt, each is a depressing rite of passage to be repeated by Schmidt's daughter as well as his successor (a bit part for Harry Groener currently on Broadway as all the men in Imaginary Friends -- another familiar stage figure,Len Cariou, has two cameos as a man Helen had an affair before she had Warren wondering about the "old woman" sharing his bed). The motor home couple are another case of more Schmidts in the making.

In the end Schmidt, thanks to Nicholson, almost arouses our sympathy enough to make this another "tragedy of the common man." Note that almost! We'll remember Arthur Miller's Willie Loman long after Warren Schmidt has faded from memory.

The film is one of the more drastic revisions of a source novel you're likely to see in a while. In About Schmidt, the novel, the title character is a lawyer whose push into early retirement is prompted by an accomplished wife's death and whose disapproval of his daughter's fiance raises issues of anti-semitism. Begley is an elegant writer -- a practicing lawyer, shades of Louis Auchincloss -- and a reading of his book, now available as paperback, is highly recommended. About Schmidt
(posted 1/01/03).

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Frida. The fascinating Mexican painter Frida Kahlo was a person with respect to whom the intriguing symbolism of her art was in constant competition with the extreme reality of her existence. Most everything, it seems, was a compromise between pain and joy. She spent much of her life -- she died at age 47 -- suffering from the consequences of a terrible school bus accident, but what the public saw was a vibrant, exciting whirlwind: she socialized with the world's notables, most always as the center of attention. She fell in love with and married the great muralist Diego Rivera early, and her affection for him never diminished. She had a storybook life with him, but he was hopelessly unfaithful. Her anguish was uncontrollable, and the palliative of her own sexual adventures was fleeting. All of this begs to be dramatized, but almost defies the effort.

The above was written more than three years ago by Les Gutman. The biodrama and the difficulties of dramatizing it described was a small Off-Off-Broadway play entitled Goodbye My Friduchita. Julie Taymor, best known for her opulent staging of The Lion King obviously had none of the constraints of a small stage company production though it too runs into some of the stumbling blocks of dramatizing an artist's life. Kahlo's extraordinary paintings provided Taymor with plenty of opportunity to use her talent for dazzling special effects to bring the painter's work to the screen and to let viewers actually see some of it evolve.

The film is one of the most visually exciting I've seen. Salma Hayek who, even though much more beautiful than her role model, manages to look remarkably like her. While Les thought Goodbye My Friduchita. handled its small scale limitations with imagination and flair, he felt the fact that Diego Rivera was not physically present undermined the play's impact. Ms. Taymor, far from keeping Rivera off screen has given us an ever present, Oscar-worthy Rivera in Albert Molina (who delighted theater goers as Yvan in the original Broadway production of Art). His e vibrant presence almost begs for the title to be Frida and Diego. For all the breathtaking images of the production, it is essentially the Frida-Diego story and it is a certain bathos and overstuffed quality that give some justification to critics who called the film a soap opera. A soap opera it is, but it's a gorgeous and thoroughly engaging one.

The cast includes Ashley Judd as one of Kahlo's Lesbian flings, Geoffrey Rush with an odd Russian accent as Trotsky (another fling), and Roger Rees (who is currently finishing his Lincoln Center engagement in the film-to-stage A Man of no Importance) as Frida's German-Jewish born photographer father. Rees's performance and accent are as good as Rush's is bad.

As you don't have to be a child to enjoy Taymor's The Lion King, you don't have to be an art buff to enjoy Frida . To conclude, as I began, a note about Goodbye My Friduchita . That play featured two Fridas, with the narrator-spirit played by Priscilla Lopez who is currently starring in a well received one-woman show called Class Mothers '68. To read both reviews:
Goodbye My Friduchita
Class Mothers '68
(posted 2/29//02).

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Playwrights Penning Film Scripts. Harold Pinter and David Mamet have long profitably divided their time between writing for film (and radio) as well as the stage. Younger writers following this pattern include Kenneth Lonergan and Neil LaBute. The Hours, the just opened adaptation of Michael Cunningham's novel of the same name which tipped its pen to Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway, is the work of David Hare. Mr. Hare's Breath of Life is currently a big box office draw on the London stage, no little thanks to its stars, Judi Dench and Vanessa Redgrave. Not that The Hours has a shabby cast: Nicole Kidman, Meryl Streep and Julianne Moore. Like its adapter, the director, Stephen Daldry, is also a man of the theater. Of course the writer who comes closest to Shakespeare for having his name under the title of a stage or screen work is Charles Dickens -- though Shakespeare still outdistances Dickens 4 to 1. At the moment, there's the smartly streamlined film of Nicholas Nickleby which has previously seen life on stage and the latest incarnation of the musicalized A Christmas Carol, this year starring F. Murray Abraham as Scrooge. (posted 2/26//02).

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Adaptation There's no way Adaptation could ever be adapted to the stage (see my comments on Roger Dodger), but writers for any medium at all can learn something important from this ingenious, savvy comedy: If you've got the imagination and nerve, rules were made to be broken. Thus when screen writing guru Robert McKee (Brian Cox, a stage and screen actor who knows how to turn even a small part into a big deal and also appears as Edward Norton's father in Spike Lee's 25th Hour.) tells the film's hoplessly blocked fictional Charlie Kaufman (Nicolas Cage) never to use voice-overs, the real Charlie Kaufman (who has created not one but two Kaufmans -- both played by Cage), ignores him with hilarious results.

What we have here is a film like one of those Russian dolls that unscrew to reveal other dolls, one inside the other. The real Kaufman was hired to adapt the real writer Susan Orelan's (played by Meryl Streep) real book, The Orchid Thief, an expanded adaptation of an article in The New Yorker about Florida con man John Laroche (Chris Cooper). Interesting as Orelans' story was, it was not something that easily lent itself to a film. While the Orleans book is not forgotten, it co-exists with another. The adapter injected two versions of himself into the story he's been hired to move from page to screen. The result: The adaptation of the Orleans story is filtered through the second story of its adapter -- a nerdy guy full of doubts about his writing and social skills. Add to this the identical twin brother who's , not nearly as bright, but unhampered by his twin's crippling insecurity. Talk about alter egos!

If all this sounds more than a little crazy, that's just the beginning. Charlie develops a crush on Orleans which, like all his other romantic impulses, he's too shy to act on. The fictional Orleans develops a relationship with LaRoche which in turn develops into melodrama.

The camera work is as terrific as the acting, shifting as it does without a missed beat from one interlaced plot element to another, from New York to Hollywood to Florida, and switching from brother to brother within a scene.

Since Kaufman also wrote Being John Malkovich, we even get a guest appearances from the elusive title character of that best of 1999 film In summary, this is the film equivalent of an Off-Broadway play with top notch production values and likely to elicit mixed reactions from audiences. It will probably confuse and annoy viewers who like more linear story telling. Even enthusiasts are likely to argue about the final use of melodrama. To this viewer, the end is the final twist in a film as twisted as a corkscrew.

I did leave my local multiplex with one question: If Nicolas Cage wins an Oscar will it be for playing Charlie or Donald Kaufman.

(posted 2/26//02).

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Stage actor studded end-of-2002 film fare. With the lull between the last Broadway opening of 2002 (Lincoln Center's revival of Dinner at Eight, still available as a golden oldie movie) and the January 2003 flurry of new productions, it's a good time to catch up on what's doing at the movies. Unlike plays which just fade away once they've finished their booking or box office draw period, movie malls can keep films running even when some showings have fewer than a dozen people in the audience. And if you miss them in the mall, there's always the video.

For theater goers it's always fun to spot stage actors supporting their live performance habit with screen assignments. The forthcoming United Artists production Nicholas Nickleby (the stage version put Roger Reese, most recently in A Man of No Importance at Lincoln Center on the theatrical map) features a veritable who's who of stage actors; to name just a few: Alan Cumming (the original emcee of the long running musical hit, Cabaret), Christopher Plummer (who's portrayed his share of Shakespearean roles), Barry Humphreys (Dame Edna) and Nathan Lane (last seen on Broadway as Max Bialystock of The Producers). The success of Michae Moore's muckraking documentary Bowling For Columbine no doubt had a good deal to do with his taking to the live stage in London with his own one-person show Michael Moore Live!reviewed by our London critic, Ben Clover.

Also featuring high profile stars of stage and screen: Adaptation with Merryl Streep, who is also in The Hours, as is Nicole Kidman; Maid In Manhattan a lightweight comedy co-starring heavy-weight stage actor, Ralph Fienes (also Stanley Tuccie, most recently in the hit revival of Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune); Catch Me If You Can in which Christopher Walken plays Leonardo DiCaprio's dad and The Emperor's Club starring the all too rarely on stage Kevin Kline. In Far From Heaven (more on this below), Tony-award winner Viola Davis plays a role (and does so with great warmth and dignity) that's long been a casting standard, the family maid; while James Rebhorn, who played major roles in the both Dinner at Eight and The Man Who Had All the Luck has a bit part, as does Celia Weston.

If I had to make a prediction about the next movie-into-musical, I wouldn't be alone in picking that surprise "lttle engine that could" -- My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

No doubt, I've overlooked some actors and vehicles featuring them, but this is enough to make it clear that the relationship between stage and screen is an ongoing one. (posted 2/24//02).

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Far From Heaven & Roger Dodger. Here are two films as different as dinner at MacDonald's and Lutece. Yet seeing one right after the other during my usual Christmas through New Year's movie catch-up, served to underscore why Far From Heaven couldn't be anything but a film, and why Roger Dodger, might have made a very effective play.

In Far From Heaven, Todd Haynes has pulled of a neat double trick, a film that's a homage to the filmmaker Douglas Sirk, notably his All That Heaven Allows and at the same time aligns this and other 1950s women's weepies s into alignment with today's more out in the open sensibility. In short, it's a film that looks exactly like a 1958 film, but with a sort of deja vu that allows the issues then swept under the rug to be clearly stated. The result is that you get caught up in the pre-Civil Rights, Gay Rights, Women's Rights world of Cathy and Frank Whitaker so that you almost forget that this is essentially Haynes making a 1958 film the way people like Sirk would have liked but couldn't. Without the stunning cinematography and Elmer Bernstein's mood-perfect music, this would never work. The fact that Julianne Moore was six motnhs pregnant during the filming adds to the poignancy of a woman ripe and yearning for something other than the empty satisfactions of the well-organized, narrow life but instead unloved by a husband locked into the closet of homosexuality. Her multi-layered and full of feeling performance is matched by Dennis Quaid as the husband, Dennis Haysbert as the sensitive and smart gardener (but not smart enough to realize that he's asking for trouble to be seen socially in this socially uptight town). Patricia Clarkson lives up to her name as Cathy's best friend, Eleanor Fine.

The kick you get from Roger Dodger is from its dialogue rather than its production values which rely so heavily on hand held camera work that the movie is often visually annoying. This, and the fact that the title character-- a motor-mouthed smoothie who's fooling nobody but himself with his wise-acre, misogynist take on the male-female relationship -- is reminiscent of the characters created by stage and screen writer Neil LaBute. That's why I think this independent little sleeper would have worked as well, if not better as a play. It could have been done without large group scenes just the main players (superbly played in the movie by Campbell Scott as the rather sour version of Auntie Mame, Jesse Eisenberg, as his horny nephew, Isabella Rossellini as the older boss lady who's just thrown Roger out of her bed, and Elizabeth Berkley and Jennifer Beals as do women more charmed by the nephew than the uncle). With the economics of the theater dictating small casts, the Elizabeth Berkley/Jennifer Beale parts could easily be combined into one. (posted 2/24//02).
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Theater Folks Shine in Golden Globes. Sam Mendes, the Wunderkind director whose thoroughly updated version of Cabaret, is still holding its own on Broadway, nabbed a Golden Globe Award for his film-directing debut of American Beauty which also nabbed the award as best Motion Picture drama. The films two stars, stage-screen-stage navigators Kevin Spacey and Annette Bennig were nominated but failed to take home an award. Janet McTeer another stage actress (Her interpretation of Nora in A Doll's House won her a Tony Award) picked up a Golden Globe for Best Actress in (Motion Picture Musical or Comedy) for Tumbleweeds. Eddie Falco won a Globe as Best Actress for her part in that high-flying mafia mini-series family The Sopranos. On the live stage she created the role of the mother in the 1999 Tony-winner Side Man. Jack Lemmon won Best Actor (Miniseries or Motion Picture Made for TV) for the CBS-TV movie Inherit the Wind which had its origins on stage. (posted January 24, 2000)
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Topsy-Turvy -- About the Men Who Laid the Groundwork For the Modern Musical Theater. Mike Leigh's Topsy-Turvy may not send a lot of theater producers rushing to revive the operettas of Gilbert & Sullivan -- but it will most assuredly win new fans for musical team to Gilbert's witty lyrics and Sullivan's lovely music. Besides handsomely staging large chunks of The Mikado (considered by many to be their best work) as well as production numbers from Princess Ida and The Guardsman, the film provides a fascinating inside look at the idea-to-stage process. With the G&S operettas not exactly the stuff of a blockbuster movie, it's easy to see why commercial Hollywood left Topsy-Turvy to the realm of independent film.

Leigh's film is soaked with atmosphere and gorgeous staging. At a time when many are saddened by the lack of melodic musicals, this is a timely look at the team who represent the beginning of the modern musical theater. And there's certainly nothing dated about the film's delicious insights into the egos and eccentricities of show biz personalities. Jim Broadbent as the gloomy William Schwenk Gilbert and and Allan Corduner as the upbeat Arthur Sullivan are outstanding, as is the rest of the cast. The two hours and forty-five minutes are never boring, with the only quibbles one might find being a few bits and pieces that are brought out but never explained.

Leigh isn't the first film director to have been smitten with Gilbert and Sullivan. The most memorable biography (also with excerpts hardly in the rich colors of the current film) starred Maurice Evans as Sullivan , and Robert Morley and also featured Eileen Herlie, Peter Finch and Martyn Green. Even more recently (1998) there was an ingenious cartoon Gilbert and Sullivan: The Very Models which provided hilarious protraits of G & S and stylishly animated excepts .

The film has made enough people want to listen to the wonderful songs from the film to put the CD of its soundtrack into a 3-figure sales rank at Amazon. To check it out go here

If the Mikado excerpts have whetted your appetite for hearing the whole opera, the following 1992 CD with Sir Charles Mackerras leading the Welsh National Opera Orchestra is recommended by a G&S friend as the ideal one for all-around quality -- which, thanks to the omission of the overture (which Sullivan didn't write) all fits neatly into a single, priceworthy CD. For ordering details go here (posted January 31, 2000)
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Liberty Heights -- Bebe Neuwirth as a Jewish Mom. Musical theater fans are rejoicing at Bebe Neuwirth return to Broadway in her Tony-winning portrayal of the high-stepping murderess Velma Kelly in Chicago on January 18th. You should also catch her in a very different, less splashy but quite endearing straight acting part: as the Jewish mother of two boys in their late teens in Barry Levinson's fouth Baltimore film, Liberty Heights. Like all of Levinson's films this is not a star vehicle just as it's not about big scenes as much as small moments to recreate the feel of a time and place which in turn convey a sese of the larger picture of America during the 1950s. The musical references, especially a big James Brown concert, add to the pleasures of this gently humorous look at an era considered dull but which ushered the start of many changes. (posted January 11, 2000)
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Mansfield Park. This thoroughly enjoyable update of Jane Austen's novel is an example of intelligent "tampering" with the source material that not only works, but works intelligently. Director Patricia Rozema has cleverly incorporated Austen's letters into the script so that the heroine becomes, like her creator, a woman who copes with the constraints of her life by writing it all down. She has also made more of the slave trade which hovers over the family at whose Mansfield Park estate most of the action unfolds, thus illuminating Austen as a social commentator rather than an author whose stories are lifted above soap opera strictly by her keen observations and writing.

Theater goers will be particularly intrigued with the versatile Harold Pinter's (stage and screen playwright-director-actor) portrayal of Sir Thomas Bertram whose business interests revolve around slavery but who proves himself to have a heart of gold. Pinter's Sir Bertram is a deeply felt and consequently sympathetic and memorable character. Lindsay Duncan who was last seen by New York theater goers in Pinter's Ashes to Ashes, is also very effective in a dual role: As heroine Fanny Price's mother she is a worn-out, ever-pregnant shell of the woman who married for love; as her rich sister, Sir Bertram's wife, she is also a shadow of what she must have been -- in this case, dragged into a near catatonic state, by an indulgence in opium (presumably dating back to her confinements with her four children). (posted Jauary 2, 2000)

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The Cider House Rules. I was eager to see this movie not only because I very much liked the book when it first came out, but because I wanted a chance to see a dramatized version of the whole book, unlike the half a loaf I saw last year at the Atlantic Theater. (my review of that production ). John Irving, the novel's author film adapter, had nothing to do with that drama which was a six-hour production presented in two parts (alas, the Atlantic Theater ran out of funds and/or enthusiasm so that it's unlikely New Yorkers will get to see part two in the forseeable future).

At any rate, the film is now playing in many local houses and it's beautifully paced, true to Irving's novel, without trying to cram in everything. Dr. Larch (Michael Caine's best role since Educating Rita is presented full-blown -- doctor-abortionist, patron of orphans and ether addict -- without going into details about his early life as a doctor in the Boston slums and the one and only sexual experience that led to his addiction. Homer's relationship with the young woman whose boyfriend is off flying the dangerous Burma route also leaves out a few details. But no matter, tHomer's odyssey is sensitively and entertainingly realized. Members of the cast who will be well known to theater goers include Paul Rudd as the flyboy, Kate Nelligan as his mother and Jane Alexander as the kindly Nurse Agnes. Having read the book didn't spoil either the play or the film. In fact, I'm so certain that you'll want to check it out after seeing the movie, that I'm including the links to two paperback editions with this piece.

The Cider House Rules -- mass market edition. . . The Cider House Rules -- trade paperback edition

(posted Jauary 2, 2000)
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The Cradle Will Rock. Tim Robbins' multi-layered saga of America during the Depression and in the shadow of World War II is a sprawling and ambitious enterprise. The film is so filled with characters, many of them well known international figures, that it's hard to take them all in. It's an impressionistic experience and with the camera brilliantly seaguing between simultaneously occurring events. Not all the parts of the film are created with equal success, but enough of it soars to make this an unforgettable and enjoyable experience.

While Rock could only be done as a film it is a particular treat for theater buffs. With Doug Aibel, the artistic director of the Vineyard Theatre serving as Tim Robbins' casting director, this turns out to be the best game of theatrical trivial pursuit in town. Stage actors well known and not so well-known are all over the screen. The ones given prominent billing are relatively easy to spot: Cherry Jones, who plays Hallie Flanagan fighting for the life of the Federal theater before Congress; John Turturro as an immigant actor; Ruben Blades as Diego Rivera and Vanessa Redgrave as a deliciously ditzy baroness with a bent for the theater and excitement.

There are others who you may have missed: Stephen Spinella as Jones-Flanagan's assistant and Harris Yulin as Congressman Dyes of the committee that harasses her. . . Peter Jacobson as Turturro's obnoxious relative and Lynn Cohen as his mother. . .Paul Giamatti as the Countess-Redgrave's foppish hanger-on (a sly take on Mischa Auer in a movie called My Man Godfrey). And there are more: Robert Ari, actor-director Bob Balaban, Victoria Clarke, Gregg Edelman, Barnard Hughes, Albert Macklin, Keira Naughton, Michelle Pawk, Carrie Preston. I'm sure I've mised a few, but counting the featured names that's 18! (posted December 1999)
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The Salesman To Whom Attention IS Still Being Paid. His loyal wife's insistence that "attention must be paid" did not save Willy Loman from his sad end. But Arthur Miller's most famous play The Death of a Salesman lives on in two film versions and innumerable stage revivals -- including a new Broadway production (by way of the Goodman Theater in Chicago) starring Brian Dennehy and Elizabeth Franz. Kevin McCarthy, who made his film debut in the 1951 film that starred Frederic March and Mildred Dunnock, reprised his role as the disillusioned son on the London Stage. When Dustin Hoffman played Willy on Broadway in 1984, Salesman ran for just 185 performances. but was made into a successful (if somewhat stage-y) film a year later. Another stage and screen actor, John Malkovich, played the oldest son, Biff. (posted 2/05/99) 
2/20/99: The 50th anniversary production opened to reviews that were generally thumbs up, especially for Brian Dennehy. Even those who quibbled agreed that Willy Loman was an enduring American character whose last tragic days of life still resonate with theatergoers. It's worth noting that while those in the theater business (including playwright Arthur Miller) lament the decline of audiences for serious, full-bodied theater (the play runs three hours and has a big cast), the audiences flocking to the Eugene O'Neill Theater are not predominantly greying but mostly in their thirties and forties. To read CurtainUp's review go here. To read my second throughts on the same productiongo here.

 The play was the big winner in the 1999 Tony Awards sweepstakes -- with Brian Dennehy getting the Best Actor Award, Elizabeth Franz, Best Featured Actress, Kevin Anderson Best Featured Actor, the play Best Revival and Robert Falls Best Director. It should sell full price tickets for as long as it wants to stick around and a tour is in the works-- as is, a limited London run preceding the tour. (Posted 6/15/99).

American Beauty, a stage director's spectacular film debut.   Sam Mendes is one of those wunderkind directors of the stage, most notably for the super hit revival of Cabaret. His first film American Beauty was officially rolled out on September 15th, and now he's also the wunderkind of the film world. Not surprisingly the cast includes actors who've distinguished themselves on stage and screen -- Kevin Spacey, Allison Janney, Annette Benig and Scott Baluka. Newmarket Press which specializes in tie-ins to popular movies has also rolled out American Beauty: The Shooting 5Script (posted 9/15/99)

The above was posted before I saw the film. Now that I've seen it, a postscript is in order. The hype is not misplaced. This is a thought-provoking, American tragedy which manages to also be funny. Kevin Spacey, last seen on stage as Hickey of Eugene O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh proves that actors who shuttle between stage and screen can indeed be the genuine article in both. Ditto for Annette Bening who as Spacey's manically success-oriented wife is coiled tight as a snake. With the help of cinematographer Contrad Hill, Mendes has been able to harness his talent for steering actors to the special effects possible only on film. The dream sequences, the use of the central metaphor, of American Roses (shades of "I Never Promised You a Rose Garden") could only work in a film -- and yet, who knows. The plastic bag which is so brilliantly used as to be almost a character in its own right, reminded us of the surprise off-Broadway hit Symphonie Fantastique in which pupeteer Basil Twist created a ballet with scaps in a tank of water. Another fine stage actress, Allison Janney (View From the Bridge) doesn't have much to do as the catatonically depressed wife of the psycho marine colonel next door to Spacey and his dysfunctional spouse and daughter. She probably took the part for the money but at least she landed in a topnotch film. If we had a movie quote as well as a theater quote page we'd probably include these American Beauty beauties: “Never underestimate the power of denial” and "I just quit my job and blackmailed my boss for almost $60,000! Pass the asparagus." (posted 9/25/99

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The Cider House Rules.   One of the more frustrating aspects of the theater is that a perfectly fine play can simply disappear before having reached any but a minute segment of the theater going public. The two-part adapatation of John Irving's novel The Cider House Rules is a case in point. It surfaced in Seattle, and again in Los Angeles and then part one arrived at the Atlantic Theatre (our review) with promises of a later production of part two which were never fulfilled. Now a film adaptation is on its way. It has no ties to the theatrical version we reviewed, but the large cast includes such stage luminaries as Jane Alexander, Kate Nelligan and Paul Rudd. Michael Caine plays the the compassionate, ether-sniffing doctor and head of aMaine orphanage. Advance scuttlebut says the film is will please all who like a well-crafted, old-fashioned saga which splendidly captures the New England countryside.  Back to Index of Topics

Annie Gets Our Her Gun Again. Irving Berlin's first Broadway show, Annie Get Your Gun didn't bowl over all the critics but it became an instant hit with the public. It starred the one singer who came complete with her own amplification systerm, Ethel Merman, and ran for 1,147 performances. Of course this was also the time when Hollywood still thrived on big movie musicals so, not surprisingly, it was filmed in 1950. The movie Annie Oakley was another big-voiced actress-singer, Betty Hutton. Besides Berlin's lively tunes ("Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better", "Doin' What Comes Naturally", "There's No Business Like Show Business", to name just a few), the movie boasted a cast that included Howard Keel, Edward Arnold, Keenan Wynn and Benay Venuta. While a movie remake is unlikely, a theatrical revival starring Bernadette Peters has been touring and is soon due to land on Broadway. Thanks to musical book writer Peter Stone (1776 and the musical Titanic) the revival has none of political incorrectness of the original. our review

 As old-time movie buffs may know, well before the musicalized 1950 movie, there was a straight rendition of the famous sharpshooter's life. This one dates back to 1935 and starred Barbara Stanwycke as Annie and Preston Foster as the man she was out to get.

 Another Berlin stage-to-screen blockbuster which included its original star -- again Ethel Merman-- was Call Me Madam (1960). It was Berlin's remarkable ear for vernacular, as well as his way with a tune that accounted for Berlin's enduring appeal to record buyers, theater and moviegoers. (posted 2/02/99) 

Annie not only gets her gun and her man, but Bernadette Peters as Annie collected a Tony and the show won in the Best Musical Revival category. It should be at the Marquis Theater for quite a while! (Posted 6/15/99).

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Stage-to-Screen News. One of the most searing and original dramas we've seen in recent years was Douglas Wright's Quills based on the Marquis de Sade, (a review of a production at the Berkshire Theatre Festival is in (our archives ). While there are no plans afoot for a stage version, Fox Searchlight is developing a film version featuring Geoffrey Rush (as de Sade) and co-starring Kate Winslet, Joaquin Phoenix and Michael Caine. A play you can currently see "live" is East Is East (to be reviewed after it opens on May 25th). The Miramax film version of the sad-comic story of a Pakistani man, his English wife and their six children is scheduled for release in October. (posted 5/20/99). 

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Conor McPherson -- His Stories Are As Irish As the Blarney Stone. Conor McPherson's The Weir arrives on Broadway on a wave of great reviews garnered in in Dublin, Toronto and London's Royal Court Theatre (London review). His solo play St. Nicholas was a triumph for Primary Stages last season. Movie fans may want to check out his 1997 movie I Went Down which is something of an underground success in art houses and video stores with a strong foreign films section. Some have called it a masterpiece of Irish cinema which should stand up superbly anywhere in the world as a hilarious, dark, suspenseful film with more twists than a crooked country lane. What fans rave about are the quirky characters and hilarious scenes and its superb Irish speech and wit.
(posted 3/29/99)

 McPerson seems to be hooked on monologues even when there are more actors on stage -- as in The Weir and The Lime Tree Bower -- the latter to become a movie, retitle Salt Water, and directed by the playwright with Brian Cox who played in the above cited St. Nicholas last year. (posted 5/19/99) 

A postscript to the above note on the movie of The Lime Tree Bower (see our review) which says much for what can happen on the way from stage to screen. Not only will the movie have a different title from the play but the cast of three will undergo enormous growth -- with 47 actors depicting the three monologues. The above-mentioned Brian Cox role is that of a character talked about but never seen, the father of one of the characters. (posted 5/24/99) . 

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Stage star studded movies. No special effects for the Star Wars crowd, but for those who like elegant period pieces, there's nothing like a dame. Franco Zeffirelli's autobiographical Tea With Mussolini boasts not one but three of the English theater's most distinguished Dames: Dame Judi Dench (currently on Broadway in Amy's View), Dame Maggie Smith and Joan Plowright. Stage stars are also abundantly in evidence in the latest Bardian romance to hit the screen, A Midsummer Night's Dream -- Kevin Kline, Anna Friel , David Strathairn , RogerRees (who both acts and directs for the stage), Max Wright and Bill Irwin. (posted 5/20/99) 

Just after posting the above, Les Gutman's review of a live and very elaborate stage version of Midsummer Night's Dream came in. It plays at one of the downtown scene's most attractive venues and includes brief observations on the movie and its star-studded cast. (his review). While the movie will be around as a video even when it runs its course on the movie house circuit, the play like so many, especially Off-Broadway, is a case of catch it now for it will be gone after its run ends -- though some of these small shows do travel to regional venues.

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Movie Stars In Summer Stock. The Williamstown Summer Theatre Festival, one of the largest and most prestigious venues in the rolling hills of the Berkshires an incubator for many Broadway shows. This season the festival is following the trend of lining up Hollywood names to add pizzazz to its season. Gwyneth Shakespeare In Love Paltrow will be doing Shakespeare live -- this time As You Like It. Another movie actor, Ethan Hawke ( Gattaca, Before Sunrise, Reality Bites ) will star in the festival's new staging of Tennessee Williams' seldom-staged Camino Real. Like Paltrow, Hawke has recently done Shakespeare on screen (a new Hamlet). The Festival is also reviving Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (see Shakespeare In Love entry for more on this play-and-movie. For more details about shows to see in the Berkshires go here. (posted 4/04/99)

 Playwright Kenneth Lonergan whose This Is Our Youth recently ended a successfulOff-Broadway re-run and whose new play, The Waverly Gallery will premiere at the Williamstown Theatre Festival is also making his debut as a film director. The film, written by Lonergan, is You Can Count On Me also has strong theater connections via its cast: Matthew Broderick (currently on Broadway in Night Must Fall), Mark Ruffalo who won a Lucille Lortel award for his role in This Is Our Youth and Laura Linney, most recently seen in an unusual Off-Broadway staging of The Turn of the Screw. (posted 6/06/99)

 Check out our June 5, 1999 entry of our Berkshire News Page for details about a new festival in Williamstown which will have director John Frankenthaler on hand for screenings of his 1973 version of The Iceman Cometh and The Manchurian Candidate. (posted 6/06/99)

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Broadway Musicals With Screen Potential. As a rule you can't expect to see a big landmark musical on screen while it's still doing solid business on Broadway and on tour. Filming the show for TV specials and then marketing as a CD is an alternative in that the video then becomes a treasured memorabilia instead of an alternative -- a case in point is Cats: The Video which evolved from a PBS tv special.

 Of course, sometimes Broadway and Hollywood versions of a musical are not a case of adapting one for the other but a matter of different creative minds honing in on one story. A case in point here is Band in Berlin about a group known as The Harmonists who were popular in Germany of the 30s but ran into problems because several of their members were Jewish. Band in Berlin: The Musical opens at the Helen Hayes on March 7th. The Harmonists: The Movie based on the same group slated for big screen release (by Miramax) on March 15th. *See follow-up posting 3/23/99 below! 

And then there are the animations. We've had the The King and I: The Broadway Hit in 1950 and again in 1995. We've also had The King and I: The Movie adapted from the show in 1956. Now the kids will have The King and I: The Animated Film. Warner Brothers has tapped Christine Noll, one of Broadway's brightest young stage talents to do Anna's songs. She appeared in Jekyll and Hyde when it first opened and more recently in Little By Little. She's got a fine voice and is too pretty to hide behind an animated Anna. (Posted 2/28/99)

 According to the reviews the animated movie is indeed more animated, the king chases his errant son in a hot air balloon and does not die. But all this adventure and the shorter length (90 minutes instead of 2 hours) comes at a price. Songs like "We Kiss in a Shadow" and "Something Wonderful" are gone though the Barbra Streisand sung soundtrack that plays over the final credits does include previously-released versions of these classics. (Posted 3/19/99) 

A postscript on the musical and the movie about the the German Acapella group which opened within a week of each other. Band In Berlin featured a fine singing group called The Hudson Shad but it was misplaced on Broadway and more a concert or cabaret act than a Broadway show. It closed after less than a month. (go here for our detailed review). The movie, in German and with English subtitles, used soundtracks from the group's much recorded movie and opened in limited markets to good reviews. I went to see it just a week or so after reviewing the Broadway show. The film succeeds admirably in bringing the six musicians to life and evoking the time and place which nurtured their success and also its downfall. While the musical selections tend to be fragmentary and the terrific Rossini overture (with the singers' voices mimicking all the instruments) was left out, it all works. The actors are very appealing and we see the women in their lives as well as other characters. A CD which features some of their most popular numbers, including the above mentioned Rossini overture can be ordered and sampled here -- Elyse Sommer

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Rushmore. Not having seen this much touted new film yet, we were curious why none of the reviews had much to say about one of our favorite stage actors Brian Cox. He was in the original English cast of the hit play Art and also the second American cast of the Broadway production -- and nabbed rave reviews last year in the Off-Broadway mono-drama St. Nicholas ). Film critic Scott Renshaw ( Scott's web site ) put our curiosity at rest as follows: "Cox plays a relatively small role as the headmaster of the school in Rushmore. For future reference, however, your readers might want to keep an eye out for Cox in a larger, better role in The Minus Man which was at Sundance." 

A call to Cox's press agent brought some more information about that film which will be released after it travels to some more festivals, including Cannes. Based on a 1990 novel of the same title ( by Lew McCreary) it's about a serial killer (Owen Wilson) who takes a room with an unhappily married couple played by Cox and another first-rate stage actress, Mercedes Ruehl. According to Variety reviewer Glenn Lovell this film is just "compelling and creepy enough to become a sleeper on the art house circuit. . . an assured blend of Hitchcock's small-town classic Shadow of a Doubt." (1943). .(posted 2/07/99) 

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Stagestruck Movie Stars Cate Blanchett, who scored big as the virgin queen in the movie Elizabeth, is scheduled to appear in a London production of David Hare's play Plenty -- which, interestingly, was made into a 1985 movie starring such stage-screen greats as John Gielgud and Ian McKellen. (January 25, 1999: Now that she's won the Golden Globe Award as best actress, this should be a hot ticket!). And the rush to trade big screen profits for lower paying live applause continues in full force. 

Ewan McGregor, seems more excited about his forthcoming London stage gig in a somewhat obscure 1960s protest play called Little Malcolm And His Struggle Against The Eunuchs than his starring role in the forthcoming Star Wars. Uma Thurman is happily bringing a touch of cinema glitter to the tiny Off-Broadway CSC Company where she will star in an updated version of The Misanthrope .

 While London and New York are the cities where movie actors are most often making forays into "live" or what some call "real" acting, one of France's premier film stars, Gerard Depardieu has graced the Paris stage with his presence after a 13-year hiatus. The play, a murder mystery called The Gates of Heaven. has Depardieu again donning period clothes as in his award-winning movie interpretation of Cyrano de Bergerac. This time he's a 16th-century emperor who gives up his throne to seek redemption through religion. (posted 1/20//99) 

Our review of the thoroughly up-to-date The Misanthrope is more positive about Uma Thurman's stage debut than a lot of other critiques. You certainly can't say that the actress was miscast in the role of a movie star (instead of a wealthy French widow, as in the original) -- but she also had to face comparisons to her co-star, the formidable stage actor Roger Rees, and another movie star Nicole (The Blue Room). The less than rave notices notwithstanding the show, like the play is sold out for its limited run and he collected wisdom of both stage and screen pros is that that these stage appearances are great for movie careers. If you do well, you're that much more wonderful. If you don't, you still score points for being brave enough to stretch yourself. (posted 2/17//99)

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Fifties Golden Oldies Redux A. R. Guerney is the theater's best-known and most successful chronicler of upper class W.A.S.P. culture. Given the early reviews of Mr. Guerney's latest play Far East, the playwright's way with the old-fashioned well-made play has swayed enough critics (including the head man at The New York Times to point their thumbs up. Since we reviewed both during it's (world premiere) and the just opened (Lincoln Center production ), what's its connection to the movies? Plenty. 

While Guerney is not adapting any specific film, Far East, bows so heavily to such golden oldies as From Here to Eternity, Love Is a Many Splendored Thing and Sayonara that audiences are likely to have bits and pieces from those films reeling through their minds -- especially Eternity since verbal and musical references to that film are used as a leitmotif throughout the play. So has Mr. Guerney, whose plays tend towards the decorum associated with his milieu, brought some of the sizzle of that memorable .scene at the water's edge to the Mitzi Newhouse Stage? The answer: Mr. Guerney's W.A.S.P. S may dream about shedding their crinolines -- but for the real thing, take out the video. (posted 1/22/99)

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Shakespeare In Love. To American audiences Dame Judi Dench may seem to be cast in the mold of portly royals. But her acting career is astonishingly diverse and she comes to her enthusiasm for Shakespeare with the pedigree of a 33-year affiliation with the Royal Shakespeare Company. Besides playing every major female Shakespearian role, she's also been Anya in Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard, Grace Harkaway in Dion Bouccicauld's London Assurance, Juno in O'Casey's Juno and the Peacock, the title character in Brecht's Mother Courage and Sally Bowles in Cabaret.. Apropos of the current movie which revolves around Romeo and Juliet, she did a widely acclaimed Juliet in Franco Zeffirelli's 1960 production of the play. Ms. Dench is scheduled to appear on Broadway -- this time without royal trappings-- to recreate her London success in David Hare's Amy's View. Addenda:
Upon reading the above reader Enid Winter suggested that "The most heartening thing about Shakespeare in Love is that it proves that there is an audience other than the so-called dumbed-down crowd out there. These are people who are reached by the power of words. True, the grand romance-within-a romance, doesn't hurt the box office. In fact, if Stoppard's 1990 Shakespeare movie, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern had combined its brilliant wordplay with romance it might have succeeded on a wider than cult level scale." 

As long as we're re-visiting the Stoppard hit we should point out that Rosencrantz was not an original screenplay like Shakespeare In Love but an adaptation of Stoppard's 1967 play; also, that Stoppard is truly a multi-media playwright who moves with ease between stage, screen and radio, original scripts and adaptations. His penchant for writers as characters was evident in his most recent London play The Invention of Love ( review) about the poet A E Housman and in which playwright-poet Oscar Wilde also makes an appearance. 

January 25, 1999: The picture nabbed 3 Golden Globe award -- best musical or comedy, best actress for Gwyneth Paltrow and best screenplay for Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard. 

se who have not yet seen the play-within-a-play hit to their nearest big screen, the Bard is bound to show up on marquees again and again. Some of Shakespeare's centuries' seasoned winners already in the works or about to be:
A new Hamlet staring Ethan Hawke as the melacholy Dane; A Midsummer Night's Dream with Michelle Pfeiffer and Kevin Kline; Titus Andronicus with Julie The Lion King as Taymor at the helm and Anthony Hopkins and Allan Cumming (the MC in Cabaret) in the cast. Last but never least when it comes to polishing the Bard's always lustrous image, there's Kenneth Branaugh preparing to move Love's Labour's Lost into the 1930s (with an Irving Berlin soundtrack) and featuring Alicia Silverstone. 

February 27, 1999: Reader Amy Stoller points out that "Shakespeare is fairly easy to adapt to film. The construction and conventions of the Elizabethan stage allowed him to establish his scenes through minimal exposition; his plays jump from one scene in one location to another in another without having to pause for an elaborate set change. In some of the battle scenes in his history plays and tragedies there is an effect very similar to cross-cutting in film. Another reason that Shakespeare's work adapts so readily to the big screen is that his characters are all larger than life. In my opinion, that's one reason lively, gripping adaptations of Shakespeare to the small screen of television are less easily and less often achieved."

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HurlyBurly. With Kevin Spacey scheduled to reprise his celebrated London performance as Hickey in The Iceman Cometh on Broadway, theater goers will undoubtedly want to catch him in the new movie HurlyBurly. It may be a new movie but it's based on a 14-year-old play by David Rabe that was one of the not-to-be-missed off-Broadway plays of 1984. While the current production is hardly lacking in star power, just look at the cast and creative team of the original:
 William Hurt and Christopher Walken played the two casting directors. Harvey Keitel was the actor looking for a network series and Jerry Stiller (currently best known as George Constanza's father) a hack writer. Cynthia Nixon, the Drama Dept's most frequently cast performer (for example-- June Moon ) played the teenage "CARE package." Adding luster to the distaff lineup were Judith Ivey and Sigourney Weaver as an exotic dancer and photojournalist respectively. 
Hurlyburly was playwright Rabe's second collaboration with director Mike Nichols. The first, Streamers, also began as a play, this one with the distinction of winning the New York Drama Critic's Award for best American play of 1975-76. It too became a movie (in 1983) which is still available as a video (with a 3-star rating by Leonard Maltin). Other Rabe plays: A Question of Mercy which played a couple of seasons ago at New York Theatre Workshop and starred Stephen Spinella recently in Electra ) The Basic Training of Pavlo Hammel, Sticks and Bones 1971-72 season Tony for best play, and In the Boom-Boom Room (a flop even with Madeleine Kahn). 

Addendum to the above-mentioned flop. Less than a week of posting the above we learned that Barbara Kopple, the Oscar winning documentary maker of Harlan County will try to do flip of that flop into a more successful film. The film version she will direct h as Patricia Arquette cast as the lonely go-go dancer. (posted 1//99)

 A Rabe play often considered the precursor to Hurley Burley was recently mounted in LA and reviewed by our critic there-- Those the River Keeps   to 6/27/99 . (posted 5/19/99). Beautiful Thing. This play by a young Brit, Jonathan Harvey, has had a fascinating journey along the less travelled paths by which a story finds its audience. It had its world premiere as a play in 1993 at the Bush Theatre in London. Additional runs followed in 1994, at the ever more famous Donmar Warehouse and also the Duke of York. Critical response was good with one reviewer (at The Guardian ) calling it "the theatrical equivalent of a whoop of joy, or doing 100 on the motorway with the radio blasting."

But the 90's coming-of-age love story of two London boys who live next-door to one another in the working-class flats of suburban London needed a movie to reach out to young gays who, like the playwright, had never seen themselves pictured in an identifiable way on screen. In 1996 that movie, adapted by Harvey for the screen, was made by Film Four. Like Harvey, the director, Hettie MacDonald, was a theater person with no film-making experience. With experienced technicians at her side and a talented cast of unknowns -- (the two leads, Scott Neal and Glen Berry, had some experience in minor movies and TV) -- she was able to make the most of her theatrical know-how. She was also a quick student who took full advantage of what the camera could achieve. As she explained in an interview ". . .you can go inside a character's head and then see something four miles away. I found that scope incredibly liberating, that you could be so big and yet so intimate with your actors."

The film making process involved five weeks on location in the same place that was used for A Clockwork Orange. Mr. Harvey too was happy with the camera's ability to convey feelings. And everyone was pleased with the excellent reviews nabbed at Cannes and the fact that it was also shown in San Sebastian. It became more of an art-cult film than a main stream box office super hit, with a cassette version available at many Blockbuster outlets.

What about the stage version? Alive and well, thank you. Last year Chicago's Famous Door Theatre (founded in 1987 in a converted laundromat) scheduled a 6-week revival which turned into a 7-month sold-out run. This same production, again directed by Gary Griffin, is now headed for the Cherry Lane Theater in Greenwich Village with the official opening on Valentine's Day. (posted 1/99)

Les Gutman, who saw the movie some time ago, went to see the play. According to his review it's terrific and in some but not all ways better than the film. With reviews generally extremely positive, the play should have a healthy run. (posted 2/17/99)

Fans of the movie may be interested in the CD of the Movie Sound Track (posted 3/0 7, 1999)

June's your final chance to see the stage version, at least at the Cherry Lane. The curtain goes down on the show 6/27.

Back to A Lion In Winter Comes Full Circle. James Goldman's play about Henry II's Christmas Eve deliberations over a successor began life in 1965 at Broadway's Ambassador Theater with Robert Preston as the king and Rosemary Harris as Eleanor of Acquitaine. It ran for a less than spectacular 91 performances but was made into a very successful movie three years later. The film's royals were played by Peter O'Toole and Katherine Hepburn who nabbed a co-Oscar for best actress. Goldman who adapted his play for the screen also won an Oscar, as did the composer, John Barry. The film also marked the screen debut of an actor who had previously focused his efforts on the stage. In case you can't guess who, it was none other than Anthony (Hannibal Lechter) Hopkins.

Now, with the movie thirty years old, the Roundabout Theater Company is bringing A Lion In Winter back to the live stage (previews begin 2/16/99) with a thoroughly modern multicultural cast headed by two Tony winners familiar to movie buffs, Laurence Fishburne and Stockard Channing. Both have distinctly different styles and stage personalities than Hepburn and O'Toole so it should be interesting to visit this "live" version of the now rather dated movie. With a star director (Michael Mayer) and a top caliber production team, the buzz is that this will be the jewel in the Roundabout's 1999 crown.
While not every critic loved it, feeling the play lacked the movie's historic panorama. However, the general consensus was favorable, including our review. Here are some quotes from the movie which made it to the current staging
Oh God, but I do love being king! -- King Henry II
We could tangle spiders in the webs you weave -- Richard III
: I've snapped and plotted all my life. There's no other way to be alive, king, and fifty all at once -- King Henry II
My God, if I went up in flames, there's not a living soul who'd pee on me to put the fire out! -- John
(Posted March 14, 1999)

There's a move afoot among movie preservationists to restore the badly deteriorated original negative of the 1968 film -- would be a nice 90th birthday gift for Katherine Hepburn who is said to consider Eleanor of Acquitaine her favorite role. Columnist Liz Smith is said to stand ready to spearhead a fundraising drive to accomplish the restoration mission. Also involved is Martin Poll, who is planning a remake of the film. (posted 3/18/99)

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Night Must Fall. 1930s theater goers loved stage thrillers. In 1935 Emlyn Williams' play about a killer terrorizing the countryside sent shivers down audiences spines. Two years later, John Van Druten adapted the play and it became a classic suspense drama showcasing Robert Montgomery's talents as a bad guy and Rosalind Russell as the young woman who gradually learns the killer's identity. Now things are coming full circle once again with a revival of the play scheduled to open at the Lyceum Theatre and starring an actor who knows his way around both stage and screen, Matthew Broderick. Broderick's last Broadway appearance as J. Pierrepond Finch in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying won him a Tony. He's also got two films in the can: Inspector Gadget and Election

I wouldn't be surprised if some smart late movie scheduler has prepared a slot for a rerun of the movie to coincide with the revival's opening. If not, it is available at Night Must Fall-- The Movie. (posted 2/01/99)

The play is also scheduled for a London revival (not the production starring Broderick!)(posted 2/27/99)

Negative reviews by us ( our review) and others notwithstanding, the play sold enough tickets to extend from a limited to an open run. (Posted 4/03/99)

But after failing to make any showing in the Tony Awards they announced a 6/27/99 closing date. Broderick was one of the presenters at the nationally televised awards. (Posted 6/15/99). Back to Index of Topics
Anna Friel. At 22 a Movie and Soap Opera Star-- And Now Stage Star. This young Brit is best known for her role in the soap opera Brookside. She appeared in the charming 1998 movie The Land Girls. Her 1999 lineup of films includes Sunset Strip, Mad Cow and Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream in which she plays Hermia. To add lustre to her career, there's her stage debut in the Broadway transfer of Patrick Marber's London hit Closer. This reviewer wasn't the only one to think that she was the show's standout. (posted 4/04/99)


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Old Movie Genre Brought Back to Life in New-Old Tennesse Williams Play. One of the most cinematic films currently on Broadway is Not About Nightingales, a never produced play by Tennessee Williams. Various drafts of the scripts were unearthed and championed by Vanessa Redgrave and led to a production that has journeyed from Houston to London and now Broadway. Williams was in his twenties when he wrote the play in 1937 and much influenced by the gangster and prison movies then in their heyday. Thanks to terrific staging, this new-old drama is one of the most exciting experiences available to this season's theater goers. The prison in which its action unfolds is made frighteningly real by set designer Richard Hoover who came to this assignment by way of prisons he's designed for movies like Costa Grava's The Last Dance and Dead Man Walking. The Not About Nightingales set just won the prestigious Olivier award. For more details read our review of the play. (Posted 2/27/99)

After being by-passed by the Tony Awards (except for set design), the show folded two weeks before its scheduled June 27th closing dates. It seems that the idea of three hours spent caged up in a grim prison setting was not all that palatable to Broadway audiences and ticket sales fizzled after the initial wave of good reviews. I doubt that this one will show up on your neighborhood screen or even as another regional production. (Posted 6/1599) Back to Index of Topics
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Captain's Courageous -- The Musical.   The 1937 film adaptation of Rudyard Kipling's seafaring coming of age saga starred curly-headed Freddie Barthelemew as the spoiled little rich boy who was rescued from drowning by the crew of a fishing schooner. Mickey Rooney was a scrappy young deckhand and Spencer Tracy won an academy award as the Portugese fisherman who became his surrogate father. Both the book and the movie are still available ( The Video . . . the book). It's unlikely that the Manhattan Theatre Club musical that opened on 2/15/99 will have the legs to sustain a similarly long life. (our review)
The ship will indeed sail for the last time 4/04 (posted 3/07/99)

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God Said, Ha!. When Julia Sweeney brought her one-woman memoir to Broadway, it received good critical reception but while people love disease-of-the-week, three hankerchief stories, audiences seem less willing to see a live show about cancer -- even a very funny one. So Sweeney's God Said, Ha! came and went. Now it's resurfaced as an endearing movie that you're most likely to catch on the art house circuit (it's currently at the Film Forum in downtown Manhattan). Maybe Sweeney was ahead of her time or too far uptown. Wit, A play about a John Donne scholar in the last stages of ovarian cancer has moved from a sold-out Off-Off Broadway run to an open run Off-Broadway.

February 28, 1999: God Said, "Ha!" may not be one of those big distribution films to sweep every neighborhood multiplex. However it will be shown in an increasing number of cities. If you see it look for a quick guest appearance by the film's executive producer Quentin Tarantino -- a turnabout of the quick appearance Sweeney made in his Pulp Fiction.
Gods and Monsters. Another thing stage and screen have in common are awards, and more awards. Starting things off there's the National Board of Review. Its top prize has been given to what may seem like an underdog, Gods and Monsters. The star, Sir Ian McKellen also nabbed the Best Actor Award (and having seen the movie, I can say, that he richly deserves it). Besides his terrific portrait of James Whale of Frankenstein movie fame, Sir Ian has also been reaping great praise for his portrayal of Garry Essendine in Noöl Coward's Present Laughter at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds. If I were visiting London, I would definitely detour from the West End to this theater which also recently put on a notable version of The Sea Gull. (posted 1/99)

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. . . Olga's House of Shame and Mel Brooks' Frankenstein Meet Gertrude Stein. If House/Lights sounds more like a movie than a play, well it is, sort of. The very avante garde Wooster Group in downtown Manhattan has deconstructed Stein's Doctor Faustus through images and reenactments of the trashy 60's cult film about a dominatrix named Olga and the young women she shames . For good measure there are also clips from more familiar films like Young Frankenstein. Other old film cliches abound. Definitely not a candidate for our Kids Okay button but very much an x-rated night out. If this film-filled theater piece were ever put on camera, it might well become more of a cult movie than the semi-pornographic Olga. (posted 2/05/99)

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Asian-Americans Make Musical News A young producing company named 2G Productions (Second Generation ) has turned the Asian-American experience into a rock musical, Making Tracks. (our review) The musical's book takes sixteen actors playing multiple roles through two hundred years of often painful assimilation -- from working as laborers to build the Northwest Railroad to being leaders in the building of the Information Super Highway . The use of photo projections give the show a cinematic sweep. The company, besides taking this show on the college circuit and to Taipan, has also been commisioned to create a full scale musical out of Ang Lee's award-winning film The Wedding Banquet wcheduled to premiere in New York in the year 2000. (posted 2/05/99)

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High Life. . One of the things we liked about this play by Lee MacDougall, a young Canadian actor turned playwright, is that he did not try to imitate the current penchant for short, evenly timed cinematic scenes. MacDougall's first playwriting effort has been compared to the work of Quentin Tarentino though there's nothing copycat about it. It will reach a larger audiences than at its limited run. at Primary Stages (see our review) when it becomes a movie, also to be written by MacDougall. Here's hoping that his screen adaptation will succeed in taking advantage of the camera's ability to widen a play's physical scope, without losing the special quality of action confined within the intimacy of the stage. (posted 2/01/99)

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Battleship Potemkin. Sergei Eisenstein's 1925 silent film is the stuff of movie legends, some of its scenes so much copied that they've become cliches. Even film critic Roger Ebert, who has not only seen the film many times but taught it shot-by-shot, conceded in one of his columns (Chicago Sun-Times) that its technical brilliance has yielded to the same loss of surprise suffered by the likes of the 23rd Psalm or Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. Having said that he went on to describe a different re-viewing of the movie which did make it come fully alivefor him once again. The screening took place on a summer night in the parking lot outside the Vickers Theater in Three Oaks, Mich. In tandem with the film, Ebert and the other viewers heard the loud and repetitive music of a local band called Concrete. Using keyboards, half-heard snatches of speech, cries and choral passages, percussion, martial airs and found sounds this band performed less as "meek accompaniests" than as "Eisenstein's collaborators.".

On January 30th New Yorkers have an opportunity to experience yet another and completely original take on Battleship Potemkin -- this one a musical based on the film from the Hartt School of Music as part of The York Theatre Company's developmental reading series for new plays and musicals. The through-composed musical features a cast of 40 and will be performed just two times, at 1:30 and 6:30 p.m. Admission is absolutely free but reservations are a must. The place is Saint Peter's Church at Citicorp Center, 619 Lexington Avenue (54th St.) And the number to call for reservations is 212/935-5820.

In the event that anyone reading this is not familiar with the film's history, it focuses on the individuals caught up in tragic events during the abortive Russian revolution of 1905, specifically, the battleship Potemkin's maltreated sailors who in their passionate struggle to survive oppression reveale the aspirations and fortitute which keep the human spirit alive. The sequence set on the Odessa stone steps leading to the beach has probably been studied, analyzed and adapted by those who walk in Eisenstein's footsteps than any other in the history of film. (posted 1/22//99)

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Parade. If you haven't read our review of this musical at Lincoln Center based on the Leo Frank case, you might want to check out the background box after the production notes and song list. It's headlined "The Real-life Leo Frank Case" and connects the production to a number of movies: 1. The movie version of Uhry's most famous play Driving Miss Daisy, which starred Jessica Tandy and Morgan Freeman (Parade completes the playwright's Atlanta trilogy). 2. The 1937 movie They Won't Forget most famous as the debut vehicle for an unknown actress named Lana Turner. And in the small screen category there was the 1988 made for television serialized filmThe Murder of Mary Phagan, which focused on Governor Slaton (played by Jack Lemmon). A fascinating backgrounder on the continuing interest in the Frank case can also be found at Salon features-- (postes 1/13/99)

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A Majority Of One. When Leonard Spiegelglass' 1959 comedy about a Brooklyn housewife who falls in love with a Japanese businessman opened on Broadway in 1959 it starred Gertrude Berg, best known as radio's Mollie Goldberg, and the English actor of stage and screen, Cedric Hardwick. It ran for 551 performances and won Berg a Tony and you'd think that the 1962 movie's equally inspired casting of Rosalind Russell and Alex Guiness would have turned it into a true Golden Oldie. While still available, it's hardly a best video renter/seller. One of those cases of the movie not being on a par with its source. But now the circle's going round once again -- with an Off-Broadway revival scheduled to open at the Jewish Rep on E. 91st St. on 1/24/99. The current stars are Phyllis Newman and Randall Duk Kim. (posted 1/22/99)

January 25, 1999: We went to see the revival and it holds up very well, with Phyllis Newman not making Rosalind Russell's mistake of out-acting Gertrude Berg. If you're the type who loves old movies for a look at another era of film making, you might find a trip to the Jewish Rep an equivalent experience -- an enjoyable look at what was once a successful and popular genre -- the well-made play. If you read our review you'll find that this revival succeeds where the movie version did not.

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Fifties Golden Oldies Redux A. R. Guerney is the theater's best-known and most successful chronicler of upper class W.A.S.P. culture. Given the early reviews of Mr. Guerney's latest play Far East, the playwright's way with the old-fashioned well-made play has swayed enough critics (including the head man at The New York Times to point their thumbs up. Since we reviewed both during it's (world premiere) and the just opened (Lincoln Center production ), what's its connection to the movies? Plenty.

While Guerney is not adapting any specific film, Far East, bows so heavily to such golden oldies as From Here to Eternity, Love Is a Many Splendored Thing and Sayonara that audiences are likely to have bits and pieces from those films reeling through their minds -- especially Eternity since verbal and musical references to that film are used as a leitmotif throughout the play. So has Mr. Guerney, whose plays tend towards the decorum associated with his milieu, brought some of the sizzle of that memorable .scene at the water's edge to the Mitzi Newhouse Stage? The answer: Mr. Guerney's W.A.S.P. S may dream about shedding their crinolines -- but for the real thing, take out the video. (posted 1/22/99)

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Dancing at Lughnasa. Having just mentioned Stephen Spinella and his current play, Electra, it should be noted that the same Frank McGuinness who directs that play also directed Lughnasa . As already mentioned in an earlier etcetera this film is everything a film adaptation of a stage play should be but often isn't . It moves beyond its claustrophic setting to the breathtakingly beautiful landscape outside the house where the five unmarried sisters eke out their dreary existence. Yet, the vise-like grip of poverty and tradition seems even more intense. The picture postcard prettiness of this expanded canvas serves to exacerbate the limitations of these women's lives. Meryl Streep's extraordinary performance is supported by a perfect cast. Michael Gambon, another stage-screen-stage traveller, is at once funny and sad as the befuddled, burnt out priest returned from far off Africa. (One of our earliest CurtainUp reviews was of Gambon's Broadway appearance in Skylight ). Brid Brennan reprises the role of Agnes which won her a Tony. Those who saw The Beauty Queen of Leenane will recognize Marie Mullen (who's now out of the play) in one of the smaller roles of a villager who's hard pressed for cash. (posted 1/99)

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Being Julia. We don't get to see enough of Annette Bening -- on stage or in film. Whenever she does leave her family (husband Warren Beatty and four children, it's a 5reat. And Being Julia is a bigger treat than ever. Directed by Hungarian director István Szabð and based on a Sommerset Maugham’s novella Theatre, this is one of those sophisticated comedies about theater people that can still soar with the right direction and cast.

As a middle-aged actress whose life and career are fraying around the edges, Bening is a hilariously luscious, vulnerable schemer. Being Julia's theatrical connections go beyond its focus on the theatrical world and a star who began her career as a Broadway actress. The stylish direction is by Ronald Harwood, whose original plays include Taking Sides and The Dresser. To play Julia's producer-husband, there's Jeremy Iron of stage and screen fame and as Julia's ghostly mentor there's the actor tagged by many as "The Great Gambon".

Julia's ennui is given a boost through a romance with a young American who turns out to be more ambitious than sincere. There's also a young actress with all the eagerness to succeed that Julia once had. Oh, there's also a long time older romantic interest who has his own well-kept secret. The complicated relationships involving husband and wife, and the ambitious young love interests are brought to an end that gives this comedy a deliciously sophisticated final twist. A flavorful holiday bon bon.
(posted November 26, 2004).
January 17 Update: Annette Benig was awarded Golden Globe's Best Actress award.

Kinsey. Besides being a thoroughly engrossing bio-drama about Dr. Alfred Kinsey, the man who revolutionized the study of sexual behavior, with Sexual Behavior in the Human Male in 1948 and with Sexual Behavior in the Human Female in 1953, this is a virtual who's who of actors commuting between Hollywood and the New York stage -- some playing major roles on screen as well as in live theater, others taking on bit parts to support their primary career as stage actors. Heading this stellar cast we have Liam Neeson as the scientist whose dedication to applying scientific research methods to sexual behavior and thereby freeing people from the superstitions and fears that dogged his own rigidly intolerant upbringing. Laura Linney who several season's ago also played Neeson's wife in a Broadway revival of Arthur Miller's The Cruciblesn, plays Mrs. Kinsey with a luminescence that is reminiscent of Liv Ullman in some of her Ingmar Bergman films. Kinsey's intolerant minister father is shown to be at once despicable and pitiful by the versatile John Lithgow, soon to star on Broadway in Dirty Rotten Scandals. Another musical veteran, John McMartin appears briefly as a Huntington Hartford, and Kate Jennings Grant a regular in musicals and plays, as his wife. Lynne Redford of the famous Redford clan of stage and screen fame, has a marvelous cameo as a woman interviewee who gives Kinsey much needed validation at a time when he desperately needs reassurance. Heather Goldenhersh, seen just a week ago in what may be this season's best new drama, Doubt, pops up briefly as a Kinsey staffer wife (several of the Kinsey staff marriages almost fell apart when they were unable to deal with the experimentation the good doctor encouraged. I could go on with these sightings of actors recently seen "live" but the most fun to spot in these large cast sagas are the major stage personas in the most miniscule parts -- notably Kathleen Chalfant, currently starring in Five By Tenn as one of the more " shocking " participant in the female sexuality study and Tony award winner Jefferson Mays (I Am My Own Wife) as an "Effete Man's friend" during Kinsey's visit to a gay bar (the Effete Man played by John Epperson). Oh, yes, Laura Linney's playwright father Romulus Linney also makes a brief appearance as a congressman (Rep B. Carroll Reece).

Despite nudity and sex long par for the course on both stage and screen, Kinsey is not in the least bit dated. In fact, with an election determined by "moral values " the question as to whether today's society is really sexually enlightened is as timely and controversial as it was in Kinsey's day. What sets director Bill Condon's (of Gods and Monsters fame) film apart from other bio-dramas is the way he keeps the focus on the central character and captures the special aura of sexual ignorance of the period during which Kinsey grew up and later conducted his research. The initial flashbacks depicting Kinsey's own background are cleverly handled via Kinsey allowing himself to be a test interview as part of training his various assistants. Kinsey is rated R and includes three graphic still photographs of an erect penis pressing against a vagina, a close-up of a vagina, and penetration and plenty of frank dialogue. Some of this sent one woman in the neighborhood art movie house where I saw it into wild peals of laughter, but most people will find this an intelligent, adult film that is enlightening and entertaining enough for its 118 minutes to fly by.
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Closer. It's been five years since I saw Closer on Broadway which is probably just the right interval to allow a film adaptation of a play to seem brand-new and yet bring back enough of the play for comparison. The dialogue and power play (and this is as much about power as love) are as riveting as ever. The actors cast to play the roles on screen are first rate, with Natalie Portman (last seen on Broadway as Anne Frank) a standout as the urchin-stripper and Clive Owen as the aggressive dermatologist, especially outstanding. Naturally, the film, now directed by Mike Nichols instead of the playwright Patrick Marber (who did, however, write the screenplay), is not confined to a theatrical set to depict the various locales over a period of years. Since the constraints of live performance were so astutely handled by Marber, this is nice but not as major an advantage as one might think. The film follows the original play pretty closely so I refer you to that review for plot details: Closer--on Broadway

January 17, 2005 update. Clive Owen and Natalie Portman took home Golden Globe's Best Supporting Actor awards. (posted December 14, 2004).

Vera Drake. I caught up with Mike Leigh's terrific gift to Imelda Staunton the same week that I saw Brenda Blethyn made her Broadway stage debut in Night Mother. Though well known in her native Britain, it was Secrets and Lies that put her on the map as an internationally known actress. Until I saw her unforgettable performance as the title character in Leigh's new film, I was familiar with Imelda Staunton mostly through some of Lizzie Loveridge's London theater reviews.

While Vera Drake, is another feather in Leigh's cap as a director, this incredibly touching slice of 1950s London life is more than anything else a major triumph for Ms. Staunton. Her portrayal of a genuinely good woman makes all the adjectives with which you want to sing her praises seem inadequate. Staunton's Vera is an industrious, working class woman, a loving mother, wife and kindly neighbor. Her persistent good cheer and calm gives her an almost saintly quality. As she manages to find time in between her cleaning lady jobs to visit her ailing mother and other needy neighbors, so she also helps poor women terminate unwanted pregnancies.

Ms. Staunton's performance yields its pleasures bit by bit, as we follow her through day too busy with her job, do-good eactivities and home life to contemplate any possible fallout from the illegal abortions she performs efficiently, with unfailing good cheer -- and without any thought of recompense (though, unbeknownst to her, the friend who arranges these illegal abortions, has no such scruples).

Staunton gets strong support from the other actors (the cast includes several other actors whose faces will be familiar to theater goers) -- especially the individuals playing her endearing family.

When tragedy strikes via a girl who almost dies after being "helped" by Vera, Staunton's superb acting takes a turn towards brilliance. Even as she must face prison, we see that her real anguish comes from realizing the pain she's caused her family. It's to everyone's credit -- the director, the star, the supporting cast -- that the ending, which could easily deteriorate into a sin-suffer-repent soap opera, instead plays out with the authenticity and power of a genuine Greek tragedy. Definitely one of those must-sees that film buffs will in time add to their DVD collection for watching again and again as time goes by. (posted November 26, 2004).
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